NEW CARROLLTON – For 38-year-old Tobias Lopez of Guatemala, “futbol” offers a reprieve from his daily life as a construction worker.
“Soccer has a lot of significance,” Lopez said. “It’s the same as the American football here…We bring the passion for soccer and that’s what we love to play.”
Lopez is the co-president of the Langley Park Soccer League, a 12-year-old international amateur association, that brings the flare of Central and South America’s favorite pastime to Maryland’s immigrant communities.
The Langley Park Soccer League has grown to 26 teams and nearly 500 players since it launched in 2000.
“Soccer is passion for our culture,” league referee Nelson Marcia said. “It’s something that you born with.”
The league began its 2012 season Sunday at three different soccer fields in Prince George’s County. Thirteen teams from group A faced off with another 13 from group B, playing for a chance to win the league title and a $3,000 prize in June at the final tournament.
The money for prizes and the tournaments comes from the league, Lopez said. Each team must pay $700 to enter the league. The entry fees — a total of $18,200 this year — are used to keep the amateur association running, Lopez said.
Lopez came to America 16 years ago, picking up menial, low-wage, jobs to get by. He started by picking tomatoes in Florida and peaches at a migrant labor camp in South Carolina, then switched to construction.
“I came [to America] to find a better future,” he said.
Thirty-four-year-old truck driver Jovanni Calderon, who has refereed in the league for nearly nine years, came to America for the same reason.
“The opportunities that we have here as immigrants are five times better than the ones in our countries,” said Calderon, of El Salvador.
But, when it comes to professional soccer, opportunities for young, talented, international players without education are scarce, Marcia said.
“The problem is that if you don’t have an education, if you are not a university student with good grades, you don’t have an opportunity to play professionally,” he said. “They don’t have any other option, but to play on the amateur level.”